Stress. Nausea. Fatigue. When you’re not feeling well—whether it’s a common cold, a chronic condition or the result of a busy schedule—the symptoms you experience can negatively impact your quality of life.
For nurses, a big part of caring for patients is helping them manage their symptoms. More and more nurses are using integrative techniques (a healing-oriented approach that includes mind, body, spirit and environment) to help relieve symptoms without medication. A growing body of literature, including the new book Integrative Nursing, co-edited by Dr. Mary Koithan at the UA College of Nursing, shows that these approaches, in addition to being gentle on the body, can be quite effective.
The next time you experience one of these common symptoms, instead of reaching into the medicine cabinet, try these easy, inexpensive remedies first:
1. Nausea - The sensation of "being sick to your stomach," and the vomiting that may come with it, are natural reflexes that protect us against toxins and other potential dangers. In some cases, they are a sign that medical attention is needed, but you may be able to relieve mild nausea associated with a known cause (such as pregnancy, motion sickness or as a side effect of a prescribed medication) by making simple changes to your diet:
- Eat small, frequent meals. Smaller portions are easier to digest and give you a chance to see how your body will react to each food and adjust accordingly. Sipping liquids throughout the day may also help reduce nausea and prevent dehydration if you do vomit.
- Avoid spicy, fatty or salty foods. Stick to simple, easy-to-digest items, such as unbuttered whole grain toast, crackers, pretzels, hot cereals and broths. Avoid strong flavors and aromas, as well as milk products—all of which may trigger nausea.
- Try ginger. A common ingredient in many cuisines, ginger has been used for centuries to calm the digestive tract. Studies suggest that eating a small amount can be as effective as some anti-nausea drugs. Look for it in ginger ale, tea, or the crystallized form found hard candies or chews.
2. Sleeplessness – Being unable to sleep is frustrating, and the drowsiness caused by not getting a full night’s sleep is often apparent the next day. Worse, chronic sleeplessness has been linked to a host of health issues ranging from obesity and diabetes to substance abuse and depression. To develop healthy sleep habits and make the most of the time you spend in bed, try these techniques:
- Mimic nightfall. While most people don’t rise with the sun and go to bed when it sets, mimicking natural patterns inside your home can benefit your sleep routine. As the evening progresses, turn down the lights and lower the room temperature to keep your environment in tune with your body’s internal clock and prepare yourself for sleep.
- Use aromatherapy. Certain scents, especially lavender, have been shown to promote sleepiness and improve quality of sleep. Try using scented candles or room spray before bed.
- Don’t just lie there. Get up if you lie in bed longer than 30 minutes without falling asleep. Do another activity and return to bed later when you feel sleepy.
3. Fatigue - In the United States, roughly a quarter of the population reports feeling fatigued. In some cases, this sense of being physically or mentally exhausted is associated with a medical condition, but many otherwise healthy people also experience fatigue—often without a clear understanding of the cause. Instead of drinking yet another cup of coffee or soda, try these tips to boost your energy:
- Don’t skip breakfast. Research suggests that an early meal not only provides nutrients to start the day, but also helps establish a consistent meal pattern and regulate energy levels throughout the day.
- Choose foods that help sustain energy. Eat a diet that includes foods high in Vitamin D (fish, cheese), antioxidants (berries, nuts) and probiotics (yogurt).
- Get some exercise. When you’re tired, heading to the gym or going for a walk may seem unappealing, but one study found that people who engaged in 20 minutes of low-intensity exercise, three times per week, reported 65 percent less fatigue after six weeks. Other studies suggest that practicing yoga also may help fight fatigue.
4. Stress - A difficult project at work. A hectic family schedule. Medical bills from a recent hospital stay. A certain amount of stress is unavoidable, but research increasingly points to chronic stress as a factor in other health problems, such as heart disease, depression, delayed wound healing and even accelerated aging. Research also suggests some simple and effective ways to fight stress:
- Listen to soothing music. Studies with patients who recently underwent surgery found that listening to calming music while resting decreased stress hormones, lowered anxiety and even reduced the use of pain medication.
- Write or draw in a journal. Research with people who experience ongoing stress—from police officers to medical students to cancer survivors—shows that expressing one’s thoughts on the page (or screen) can help reduce anxiety, process traumatic events and improve quality of life. Journaling for periods as short as five minutes, whether periodically or on a regular schedule, can have an immediate positive impact.
- Watch a funny movie. The simple act of laughing—or even anticipating laughter—has been shown to lower stress hormones and reduce the feeling of being stressed.
While practicing self-care, developing healthy habits and making small changes to your routine like the ones suggested here can help manage mild symptoms, never substitute such tips for professional medical advice or care. Persistent or unexplained symptoms may be signs of an underlying medical condition that requires the attention of a trained health-care professional.